Israel's tech startup scene is booming. We meet the founders to watch this year.
By Shuly Galili (Co-founder, UpWest Labs)
I wrote a piece in 2013 highlighting Israel’s rising female entrepreneurs. I wanted to shine a spotlight on this incredible group of early stage trailblazers who are pursuing the entrepreneurial journey with a big vision. I thought each one of their stories could inspire the next generation of founders coming out of Israel’s tech ecosystem – or anywhere else in the world, for that matter.
So much has happened in the past year and I am excited to see the growth and momentum from the group that I wrote about. In 2014, the women I listed raised a combined $35M, with both Daphna Nissenbaum of Tipa and Naama Alon from HoneyBook raising impressive rounds north of $10M.
Others on the list, like Liat Mordechay Hertnou from 24me and Triinu Magi of Neura, also significantly grew their companies in users and new hires. All of the companies are making headway in disrupting new markets such as healthcare (Maayan Cohen at Hello Doctor), retail (Tamar Yaniv at Preen.me and Orit Hashai from Brayola), Big Data (Iris Shoor at Takipi), sales (Kira Radinsky of Sales Predict), digital media (Yael Givon at Stevie) and others.
Beyond this group, even more has happened in 2014, pointing to an acceleration of the impact that Israeli female founders are having across the tech industry and beyond. Today, we’re seeing companies led by Israeli women valued at $2.5B, with other female founders taking on new, difficult markets, and others becoming successful serial entrepreneurs. These women are not just breaking down barriers – they’re pulverizing them.
Here are my forecasts for 2015 on breakout Israeli female entrepreneurs to watch for the coming year…
Adi Tatakro, Co-founder & CEO, Houzz When you meet Adi you quickly see the blend of brilliance and leadership. She brought her business know-how and passion for design together to start Houzz in 2009 and subsequently redefined the experience and process for homeowners, architects and remodeling professionals.
Today Houzz is one of the hottest companies out of Silicon Valley. It is valued at $2.5B and with significant expansion internationally in 2014.
Above all else, what makes Houzz so successful is that user experience has been the core principle that has defined how Adi built Houzz. She stuck to her values and did not compromise them by prematurely trying to monetize the service – all that mattered was whether or not it was a great experience.
On top of that, Adi is also meticulous, with a strong focus on building a company culture. In fact, she still interviews all new hires in a company of 300+ people, and she acts as the glue of the company, making sure that it’s a great place to work.
The Academic Turned Entrepreneur
Dr. Daphne Koller, President & Co-founder, Coursera When you look at Daphne’s credentials and achievements it is easy to understand how entrepreneurship was just another path to excellence. After receiving her masters degree at age 18, Daphne later became a MacArthur Fellow and Stanford Professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.
Daphne’s passion for education moved her to start Coursera, an online education platform offering MOOCs (Massive online open courses), in 2012. As of October 2014, Coursera has made enormous headway in revolutionizing access to higher education: the company has 10 million users across 839 courses from 114 institutions.
It is quickly expanding internationally to other countries like Brazil and India and raised over $85M, becoming one of the leading contenders in the massive online learning space.
The Serial Entrepreneurs
Dr. Michal Tsur, President & Co-founder, Kaltura After her first company Cyota in the anti-fraud domain was successfully acquired by RSA Security in 2005, Dr. Michal Tsur was driven to start again a second company, called Kaltura. Kaltura is the world’s only provider of open source online video software. Michal did her post-doctoral fellowship at Yale Law School in the Information Society Project, where her research focused on open-source data and memetics.
She is also a very strong advocate for women in technology. In a recent Forbes article, Tsur said that creating a company from scratch is “one of the most empowering and exciting things one can do. Seize it. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself or stand up in general. Don’t leave all that fun to the boys.”
Daphna Carmeli, Co-founder & CEO, Deliv
Daphne Carmeli, a longtime Silicon Valley leader, was a founding team member of WebMD and former head of Netscape e-commerce. She first took on entrepreneurship in 2000 with Metreo, a leader of comprehensive pricing intelligence and optimization solutions. Metreo was successfully acquired by Symphony technology group in 2006 and Daphne took on significant advisory roles to many Valley VCs and successful entrepreneurs.
Her new company Deliv is already a phenomenon in the retail industry. Deliv is taking on a huge opportunity in the same-day delivery domain and allows retailers to offer their customers a same-day option as they shop from their website, mobile app or from their brick and mortar store.
Deliv has partnered with over 225 national and regional retailers, as well as the nation's six largest mall operators, who manage nearly 800 malls across the country.
Naama Moran, CEO & Co-founder, Sourcery
Naama is the CEO and Co-founder of Sourcery, a company that allows restaurants and businesses to order from, and pay local food suppliers. Having just exited stealth, Sourcery has already lined up customers such as Munchery, Dropbox, La Mar, and Airbnb, while raising $2.5M from leading Silicon Valley investors.
This is not Naama’s first rodeo either – she has co-founded three other companies in the past, with one of them, Zappedy, being acquired by Groupon in 2011. Watch her continue to make waves as Sourcery grows.
Dr. Noa Ruschin-Rimini, CEO, Grid4C With more than 15 years of experience in the software industry at companies such as IBM and Oracle, Dr. Noa Rushchin-Rimini, an expert in machine learning and data mining, is taking her talents to solve massive challenges for power producers and providers. Her company, called Grid4C, analyzes the massive amounts of data coming from smart electric meters, weather data, electricity prices, customer information, and more.
This data is meant to maximize operating efficiency, command and control, and to provide added value for consumers. She secured funding in 2014 from ICV.
Sharon Savariego, Co-founder & CEO, Mobilize
In just one year Sharon Savariego has built a company called Mobilize which has demonstrated incredible momentum as a community management platform. Sharon realized that a new world of sharing economy workforces, developer groups, venture capital networks, and freelancers is emerging – and although these communities of people are key to organizational success, they aren’t full-on employees or customers. In short, they need to be treated differently.
To help these companies, Sharon created Mobilize, taking it through our UpWest Labs accelerator. Sharon has now successfully raised $1.2M in seed funding and attracted customers like Uber, Google, Intuit and the Thiel Foundation among many, many others.
Liat Zakay, Co-founder & CEO, Donde
Liat has impressive technical skills that were groomed as an officer in one of Israel’s most elite tech intelligence units. By the end of her time in the military, she was teaching incoming students at the military’s cyber training program.
With this impressive array of technical chops, Liat set out to build Donde last year, also as part of UpWest Labs. On its surface, Donde looks like an intuitive, wonderfully-designed mobile shopping experience. In fact, what Liat has built is an entirely new search paradigm and set of algorithms that can identify and classify visual properties in product images. It will blow both the retail and search industries away.
As Liat explained at TechCrunch Disrupt, Donde’s technology uses artificial intelligence to imitate the way people visually perceive objects, allowing consumers to find the product they have in mind in less than 15 seconds. Watch for Donde to come out of beta soon and expand its offering.
Fueling the ecosystem
It is clear that education is the key component for Israel to continue producing such strong female leaders in technology and entrepreneurship. Here are two phenomenal women who are making a difference in this realm:
Hamutal Meridor, Cracking the Glass Ceiling
Israel is no different from the rest of the world when it comes to gender-gaps in STEM education. There are fewer girls choosing advanced math, computer science, physics, and other subjects as their concentration. As a computer science professional, Hamutal could see the gap first-hand and realized it had to be addressed earlier on. She joined as a leading force behind Cracking the Glass Ceiling.
The organization is pioneering a program to develop scholastic success in STEM for girls who are at-risk. The program seeks to strengthen their self-esteem and self-image, and to expand new horizons of knowledge and ambition.
It already has over 15 schools and 700 girls in the program, exposing them to women in tech and science at companies such as Google and The Weizmann Institute, and showing them the path to realize their dreams.
Liat Aaronson, Executive Director, Zell Entrepreneurship Program
It is no secret that Israeli entrepreneurs get much of their leadership mojo in the military. However, entrepreneurship and building a venture is mostly taught in the prestigious Zell Entrepreneurship program at the Interdisciplinary School (IDC), which is one of Israel’s premier private universities. During the last year, the Zell program enabled students the opportunity to develop a business venture from concept to launch.
Liat Aaronson is the force behind the Zell program and serving as an executive director, mentor and inspirational leader. She can already count some successful alumni under her belt such as IronSource, Visual.ly, FormLabs and 24Me. Liat’s program not only helps build future entrepreneurs, but future leaders as well.
Leading the Charge
These stories demonstrate that women with resilience and knack for leadership can create hugely successful companies in the U.S. – the most competitive business environment in the world. We’ve seen exciting gains made by women in tech this year, and many female Israeli entrepreneurs are leading the charge.
Who are your "founders to watch" in 2015?
Photo credit: Sean Pavone via Shutterstock.
About the guest blogger: Shuly Galili is the co-founder of UpWest Labs, a Silicon Valley accelerator investing in Israeli entrepreneurs. She spent the last decade building Silicon Valley’s gateway to Israel. Prior to UpWest Labs she was the Executive Director of The California Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC). Follow her on Twitter @shulygalili.